The New Species in the Yard - Me

Pam Mitchell

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Who could imagine what might happen if your larger world were taken away, and you were left in a small, everyday space for a while. Lonely? Boring? Maybe not.

Years ago, I started a nature journal which I titled "A Year in My Backyard." I labeled the pages with the names of the months and added drawings and observations of plants and animals. It was a good effort, but recently I realized that it was far from complete. My observations seemed surface and shallow. This past year of isolation gave me the time and the desire to delve deeper. So I did.

A good student asks questions, so I asked what more could nature teach me if I really paid attention? I started to pay attention to the sights – the colors, changes, shapes, movements. I really listened, from the April spring peepers to the cricket swan song in October. I tried to feel the subtle vibrations as my natural world moved through the seasons.

I began to understand that just watching the bird feeder was not enough. Why does the nuthatch need to fly the sunflower seed to the tree to pound off the outer shell while the cardinal merely pops the seed into her mouth and releases the shell almost at once? Same food, different beaks. Why do our local rabbits, who are supposed to come out at twilight, spend the afternoon munching in our backyard? We let the grass and the bordering bushes grow long, providing food and protection (or they could just be a rebellious band of local bunnies!).

Questions led to a need for more answers through research. The box turtle in my yard could have been born during the Great Depression! The chimney swifts I see high in the evening sky are so quick that they can only be captured by the fastest of predators – the falcons. The catbird who nested in our azalea bush left in October for Central America, soon to be replaced by Juncos from Canada. They will stay until April, never to meet a catbird face-to-face.

Why would I not want to share this wonderful knowledge with others? Well, the "others" were limited. My family, who are all nature-lovers, listened to my new-found knowledge and said, "Gee, Mom, that's interesting." I know that there was plenty of eye-rolling when my back was turned. One nature nerd might be enough for one family – or one neighborhood. When I excitedly showed my eight year-old neighbor a praying mantis egg case, he wasn't as fascinated as I thought he should be. I said, "You must think I'm really weird." Being the polite child that he was raised to be, he said, "Well, you're not that weird." I felt better immediately.

Many people have learned to experience and love nature during these recent months. For some, it's been life-changing. Everyone's journey is different, but nature has helped many to handle this challenging time by slowing down, turning inward then outward, and tapping into the wonder and strength we can receive from the natural world – even in our own backyard. My nature journal is so much more complete, and, somehow, so am I.


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Rebecca Mitchell · ago
Love this! It’s very true how slowing down and being in nature help us heal the soul
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Ann Willman · ago
I loved this as much as I love you. You wrote this so vividly, I could easily feel as if I were there with you in your nature nest. You can’t be lonely there, ever. What a gift, to realize and appreciate what’s there….as they say,…….’in your own backyard’! You are truly a gift of nature.